Friday, September 07, 2007

In Memory of Arnold Wagner

Please note that this posting was intentionally delayed, not out of disrespect, but rather, until I could give it the special thought it deserved.

In Memory of Arnold Wager
Photo Source: Arnold Wagner's online Wisenheimer profile.

One week ago, the cartooning community lost a valued member, historian, teacher, and friend: Arnold Wagner.

Although I never had the opportunity to meet Arnold in person, it's an understatement to say that I'll miss him. For I, along with so many other aspiring and professional cartoonists, had the pleasure of knowing the "cyber-side" of Arnold -- an always friendly and endless inkwell of knowledge, who (aside from the above photo) was often read, but rarely seen.

I first met Arnold about ten years ago via The Wisenheimer, an online discussion forum hosted by fellow cartoonist, Ted Goff. At that time, I was just getting my feet wet in professional cartooning, a world where Mister Wagner was already an established and seasoned veteran ...

During his career, Arnold Wagner's gag cartoon work was featured in many publications including: IF Science Fiction; The Saturday Evening Post; Writer's Digest; Boys Life; Parade; Suburbia Today; The National Enquirer; Golf World; Broadway Laughs; and The New Yorker. Arnold had also worked on the syndicated comic strip version of "The Flintstones." In addition to his published cartoons, he co-authored a book entitled "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cartooning" (Published in 2002). (Source:

Over the years, Arnold was known as a regular on numerous cartooning-related discussion boards. In addition to The Wisenheimer, I had the pleasure of getting to know him via his thoughtful posts on Toon Talk, hosted by syndicated comic strip cartoonist, Darrin Bell (Candorville & Rudy Park).

Arnold Wagner was a cartoonist amongst cartoonists, but what made him standout from the rest was how much he morally supported his fellow colleagues in their personal and professional endeavours. All too often, there's an underlying sense of competition within the ranks -- a fear that sharing too much information about your own craft will give other cartoonists an unfair advantage.

After all, it’s the cartoon business.

And yet, Arnold rarely held back. He called a spade a spade. No matter how dumb and/or naïve a question may have seemed, Arnold was always there to offer his 2 cents in gold.

Maybe it was because, over the past few years, Arnold had been frequently reminded of his own mortality (it was a battle with cancer that he finally succumbed to last week). Maybe it was because he knew that by teaching and sharing his vast knowledge with the younger generations, he could help inspire a brighter future for an industry facing many challenges and changes -- both internal and external. Or, maybe it was simply because Arnold was a good ol’ cartoonist.

I like to think it was all the above.

Whatever his motivation, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to share and exchange ideas with Arnold Wager via the cartoonist discussion boards we both frequented, as well as privately via email. To give you a better sense of his frankness, the following is a little snippet of Arnold, in his own words, from an email he sent me in April of this year. At the time, we were discussing the business of gag cartooning:

I continue to do things pretty much as I've always done. My major change was to go from original roughs to high resolution print outs. That includes my contact info in a small size at the bottom. I used to put it on the back using a light blue rubber stamp, but no more.

In the olden times, my roughs were finished enough so [editors] could print from them if they wished. I still work the same way, maybe even a bit more finished, since I only have to draw them once, as opposed to the days when some editor spilled coffee on the rough, and it had to be redrawn. I still use snail mail more often than not. Too many [editors] still aren't accepting electronic submissions.

... Remember, I'm a very old hat.

Arnold had a passion for cartoon history -- most especially, the evolution of dip pen nibs. His personal website (still active at the time of this writing) features over 14 pages dedicated to this topic. Arnold also enjoyed science fiction, and used to send me feedback regarding a comic strip that I used to draw about space exploring kids entitled “Hyperspace.” In recent months, he knew that I was working on a short story that involved many of our common interests ... It saddens me to know that I’ll never get Arnold’s feedback on the final draft. As always, it would've been greatly appreciated.

As a testament of Arnold’s legacy, there's a discussion thread entitled "A Moment of Silence for Arnold" currently active on The Wisenheimer. At the time of this writing, over 100 members have added their name to this silent memorial. Among those listed are professional cartoonists of all types: gag cartoons, syndicated comic strips, children’s books, greeting cards, etc. Many are members of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS), while others reside internationally, from Europe to Australia.

Similarly, many cartoonists have posted their own tributes to Arnold on websites and blogs across the Internet. In a future post, I intend to provide links to these memorials -- I invite any cartoonist to email me their URL's, or share them below as a comment. I also encourage anyone unfamiliar with Arnold, to visit his website and blog while they are still available. Please excuse the formatting on his blog, as Arnold had been trying to recover the data after a technical glitch.

After learning of Arnold's passing, I was recently humbled when I revisited his website and discovered that he had included me in his online list of links entitled, “A Few of My Favorite People,” however, I have no doubt that, had Arnold had more time to add every cartoonist he admired and/or inspired over the years, this list would be endless.

In my eyes, Arnold Wagner was one of the best teachers a cartoonist could ever ask for. Through both his cartooning career and battle with cancer, he demonstrated one the greatest lessons of all: “Never give up.”

Along those lines, I'd like to conclude with a snippet of advice that the old sage left me back in March, after I posted some thoughts in my blog entitled "Cartooning Philosophy: On Rejection ...":

A good deal of the time rejection isn't personal, and keeping that in mind helps ... Sometimes they've [editors] just got to use up a backlog before buying more, maybe there's a budget cut, maybe they've a special article they need to run that will crowd out some cartoons for a few issues. The list is endless.

At times like this, sometimes "thank you" just doesn't say enough, but for what it's worth ...

Thank you, Mr. Wagner ... Thank you.

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

1 comment:

  1. Rachel9:05 p.m.

    Thank you, Mike.
    He had a lot of good things to say about you, too.